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  • Writer's pictureHolohan Coaching

Adaptability - 'an ability or willingness to change in order to suit different conditions'

Why developing this often under valued soft skill can elevate your performance. By Harrison Hunter.


Is it possible to set out a perfect plan? On paper yes. Is it achievable to execute the plan perfectly? No. This article will help to explain why, and why having the ability to adapt and improvise, where necessary, is essential - and not to be feared.


Evie Richards, Banyoles Super Cup - 📷 Harrison Hunter @afredslife

As we're now well into March, here in the UK this means a lot of the early season openers have taken place. Athletes will have gone through their usual pre-season training, working with their coach to rectify any known weaknesses and continue to develop on their strengths. It's the first chance to see who's been consistent over the winter, and who's best prepared for the intensity that only races can offer - these early races really do the set the tone for the season! 

To have good form as a rider whilst fatigued from the usually high volume winter training is a difficult balance to strike. Coaches have a plan they want the athlete to execute to allow the athlete to 'peak' in the races that are most important to them, usually later in the year. Teams on the other hand may expect their athletes to perform well from the start of the season. This is where being adaptable in approach is necessary. Coaches need to decide where to best place the training sessions they want the athlete to perform, whilst allowing the athlete to have some form and freshness to perform on the day. Does this mean altering the structure of the plan? Sometimes yes, try not to set something in stone that cannot be adapted - the first rule. 

It is unlikely, athletes will all 'peak' for the same race/ races. Teams will have their own goals and this usually dictates which events are focused on. However, as an athlete you never want to go into a race and underperform, your competitive nature comes out and you want to perform at your best in all races. 

This isn't really possible, yes there are exceptional talents out there that can race all year and perform well - but although they look like they're always on form, they're generally not. They will still have target goals where they 'peak' and other races which they put less importance on. Does that mean they will win their 'target' races and do badly in the others? Not necessarily, there a lot of un-controllables that come into play. But having this structure is important to allow some order within the chaos of the calendar.

Training Peaks annual training plan for a cyclist.
We can plan an ATP, can we keep to it? Do we need to keep to it?

Race Calendar 

Athletes are often dictated to what races they can enter and ultimately race in. This is often down to the team they ride for and the teams race calendar. To most, being on an elite team looks like it provides the best race opportunities, yes to some extent the bigger teams can approach bigger races. However, in a competitive conti or pro-conti team there are often multiple athletes vying for a limited number of spots. DS's have to choose a team of ~6 riders from their roster of sometimes 16-18.. this can be increasingly difficultly as some races can suit certain riders better than others. 

The coach and athlete would usually sit down at the beginning of the season to discuss which race / race's they should focus on. This is expressed to the team and then a plan can be created. However, the races we often plan to be our 'target' can sometimes not happen, or the athlete gets selected for a different race and therefore the target has to switch. This is where having an adaptable training approach is key. 

A performance management chart from Training Peaks for a cyclist training plan
This (above) highlights the unpredictability of a season, the peaks and the troughs, the planned recovery and the uncontrollable rest.

Being Adaptable 

There are many times in a season where things don't and won't go to plan - this is a given. Athletes can get ill or injured, races can change or get cancelled or external factors, travel, weather can all play a part in how consistent training is. A perfectly planned 22 hour week with well structured sessions and perfect recovery can easily turn into less than 10 training hours, multiple travel days with disrupted sleep, nutrition and ultimately disrupted recovery. What can done in these situations? 

Don't panic! Try and follow a methodical approach.

  • Talk to your coach.

If for any reason you can't complete a session or changes in work, travel or personal time reduce your available training hours, don't panic. Don't try and cram in training to catch up. Explain this to your coach, they will have a solution - it is usually no problem to switch days around to still achieve the same training effect. 

  • Take a step back and look holistically at the previous block of training or racing .

If you're struggling to see your own progress, take a step back. Ask your coach to provide an overview of your last year, 6-months or even 90-days. Discuss this, why you've been doing what you're doing and where you've made progress. It is often hard to see week on week, but when you look back it will often uncover some large improvements. 

  • Re-adjust and adapt the plan going forwards.  

Come up with a plan, TOGETHER, to get back on track. This doesn't have to be perfect or set in stone. Coming back from an injury or illness can present many unknowns that setting recovery times is impractical. Learn through each experience and take each moment as it comes. Don't chase something that is not achievable, set small and achievable goals and work through these methodically - it's good for your head and self discipline. 

Have faith, in yourself and your coach! 

Saint Piran training camp
📷 Harrison Hunter @afredslife

Trust the process. Learn to understand that you cannot be at your physical best at all times - we will all have times where we're fatigued and not performing, but without these moments we won't have the high performing tapers and peaks. 

Communicate. Don't leave your coach in the lurch, the more they know the better. The more you can communicate your feelings, worries, illnesses, niggles, anything that will have an impact on your physical output on any given day, the coach should know. 

Ultimately, were here to help, we're your support network. We have knowledge and experience across many different scenarios, we are able to look at the bigger picture without being too emotionally involved. This is an important relationship, and needs consistent effort from both sides to create a trusting and respectful working environment - and friendship.

Remember, "being adaptable requires a willingness from both athlete and coach".

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